Renting a property

RentingThere are many reasons why it may suit you to rent a property rather than commit yourself to buying. Perhaps you're working in a new area but don't intend to stay there in the long term, or don't have the capital at your disposal to take on a mortgage.

Working through an agency has many advantages, as you will be guaranteed a certain level of security, particularly if the agency is part of the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS). Necessary work is more likely to be done on time, and there will probably be fewer disputes over matters such as deposits. But it may be more expensive than renting directly from a private landlord.

The first tip is to be quick off the mark when you identify a possible property, as there is always likely to be a high demand for good-quality rented accommodation.

When viewing, try to arrive slightly earlier than arranged so you can have a look at the outside of the property. You'll be able to see if downpipes, drains, gutters, widows and roofs appear to be in good condition.

Take a look at any garden ground. It'll be worth finding out who is responsible for keeping it tidy and well maintained.

Make sure the location is suitable in terms of car-parking, local amenities and potential noise nuisance.

When viewing, don't make an instant decision. Be thorough in checking the taps and plumbing, and making sure all the electrical appliances and sockets are in working order.

You are legally entitled to see CORGI safety certificates or landlord's gas safety records. Is there central heating, and do all the radiators work properly?

Ensure the soft furnishings are labelled as fire-resistant. Check all rooms for damp or infestation (such as mice), and make sure the property is fully secure.

Be wary about moving into a house where it's clear that a lot of repair work is needed. Is there double glazing and roof insulation? If not, your energy bills are likely to be higher than you bargained for.

Is the kitchen large enough for your needs, and is there adequate storage space?

Find out if there are regular visits by window cleaners or other services that could bring added costs.

In terms of safety and security, see if there's a burglar alarm, a chain on the door and suitable locks.

Is there a smoke alarm, and a fire extinguisher or blanket in the kitchen? Would it be easy to escape a fire? Are there carbon monoxide detectors?

If you're happy with the property and decide to accept it, ask the landlord for a copy of the lease.

The landlord will normally want the first month's rent in advance, plus a deposit which should be refundable when you leave, minus any deductions for breakages. The deposit is usually a further month's rent, although it may be more.

Before you give your landlord his deposit, make sure you're in the best position to claim it back. Ask the landlord for an inventory of everything in the place, check it yourself, and raise any discrepancies straight away. Once you have agreed on the inventory, both parties should sign it, and keep a copy each.

Taking photos of the accommodation and its contents on the day you move in can also be helpful.

When you hand over the deposit and rent, make sure you get a rent book or other form of rent receipt, and ensure that the previous tenants have returned all the keys. If any repairs are needed, inform the landlord in writing immediately. You are legally entitled to know your landlord's name and address.

Read all the meters, take a note of the readings and the date, and inform the electricity, gas and phone companies - you don't want to be held accountable for a previous tenant's bills. Make sure you tell the local authority you are the new occupant, to keep your Council Tax payments in order.

You'll also need to get a TV licence - and find out when bin day is.

With all these factors attended to, you can settle in to life in your rented property and have real peace of mind.